Sunday, June 16, 2013

How We Talk About Foreign Policy

I have a theory about how foreign policy is discussed in our media: foreign policy is barley discussed at all, what is discussed is how foreign events might influence politicians and politics in Washington.  This is not to say that people don't discuss other countries, they do.  But they don't discuss foreign policy as I understand it, that is the question of what policies our country should have when dealing with other countries.  Instead, when most people discuss foreign policy, or more properly "Foreign Policy," they are really just talking about American politics.  In particular, how the President is failing to magically transform the rest of the world into societies that we approve of more.

Jim Newell had a funny round up of today's Sunday news shows over at Salon and his summation of how they discuss events in Syria are telling.  First up "This Week" :
First, and solely because it starts a half-hour earlier than the other shows, we’ll check out “This Week,” where Jonathan Karl is substituting for George Stephanopoulos. “Is the U.S. going to get involved in another war in the Middle East?” Always, Jonathan Karl, always. Let’s see what Marco Rubio has to say.

Rubio, a war-friendly Republican, says that President Obama blew it by waiting so long to get involved in Syria. (Assuming this really is the broad change in strategy it’s been billed as.) Now who are we giving arms to? Al-Qaida “elements.” What would President Rubio have done? Karl asks. Well, Rubio never would have allowed it to get to this point, of course. If Rubio were president, Syria would be a sunny democratic Utopia already, because he would have managed it so perfectly, you just have no idea how perfectly President Rubio would have done things.
So basically we have someone running for president criticizing the current president who happens to be from another party.  But wait there's a pannel on foreign policy too:

Jeremy Bash, “former chief of staff to the CIA director,” is here to defend Obama’s decision. “Now is the right time to arm the rebels,” after Syria “barreled” across that red line of using chemical weapons. ABC News’ Martha Raddatz would like a no-fly zone, if the point is to make a significant difference whatsoever. Bash is talking about how difficult it is being in the room where these decisions are made, so everybody calm down.

How does the use of chemical weapons change our national interest anyway? George Will asks. (No one ever answers this question.)

Glory be, it’s a panel with Newt Gingrich. “This will turn out to be one of those cases where the United States sets itself up to be defeated,” and Putin will be smiling.
So the panel gave us, at most, a charlatan who resigned in disgrace making bad Cold War analogizes and an incredibly broad question (what are "national interests" anyway) nobody even acknowledges.

The other Sunday shows don't do much better.  Here's the discussion about Syria on "Meet The Press":
“ARE WE RAMPING UP FOR WAR IN SYRIA?” David Gregory asks super-seriously in his opening blast...

Lindsey Graham, hawk of hawks, is of course the first guest. “It seems like ‘not being Bush’ is our foreign policy.” Doesn’t sound like a bad foreign policy when you put it that way. “AK-47s will not neutralize [Assad's] advantage over the rebels … we need to do more.” What forced the president’s hand on this, David Ignatius? The use of chemical weapons forced a decision that was already made “in embryo” within the administration. Andrea Mitchell believes that Iran is the factor that tipped this. The administration realizes “that they are now at war with Iran.” Maybe want to throw a “proxy” in there?

Gregory shows a graphic that more than 90,000 people have been killed in the Syrian civil war so far. Why can’t America make it all happy again? A “political negotiation can only happen” when the military calculus on the ground changes, Graham says, and he believes, as he always believes, that that means a no-fly zone. We can “crater the runways with cruise missiles.” He trusts that the American people believe we need to “do something” in Syria.
Not much better.  Note that while some "expert" named Andrea Mitchell mentioned Iran, she didn't bother to talk about the election that just happened which brought moderates to the power for the first time since the 90's!  Also no mention of what's going on in Turkey.

This is not a discussion about whats going on in the world, why it's going on and what we should do about it.  It is a discussion of the politics of Washington DC, the attempts by some to further their careers in journalism and politics and the rattling off of talking points.  The interesting thing is that you can get more from five minutes of non-traditional news than from watching three hours of the important Sunday shows with all the important people.

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